The Ancient Hebrew Marriage Rite (Part I: The Betrothal)

Marriage is like a golden ring in a chain, whose beginning is a glance and whose ending is eternity.

— Kahlil Gibran

MARRIED AT FIRST SIGHT

I’ve always found the thought of being arranged and married to someone you’ve never seen or known, to be quite mysteriously enticing. Of course, I do not take it lightly, considering all it must entail. There are major TV and social media productions showcasing staged-realities (more like chaotic, dramatic, public mockeries) of arranged marriages solely as a source of entertainment. They are a poor representation of a sacred rite and a beautiful foundation grounded in truth.

What the world cannot deny (and what it does not want you to know), there is an enigmatical beauty to arranged marriages, strange as it may seem, that outshines the lot of all unions. The foundation of a faith-based, arranged marriage can potentially (and has been proven to) outlast many of the circus-filled, celebrity-acts that we call marriages today.

I’m not going to include the successes of the “Moon-marriages” and other national and religious sects you’ve probably heard about. I am staying close to home with an original and most fascinating rite worth learning about: The Ancient Hebrew Marriage Rite.

What’s so great about it, you ask?

The Ancient Hebrew Marriage Rite is not about two individuals coming together, it is about two families becoming one, and more importantly, it is grounded in Torah by the Most High, the Creator of the Universe. It is his very commandments and statutes that govern its success and makes it different from all other arranged marriages on earth.

Now, that doesn’t mean a marriage brought together by YAH doesn’t face the same challenges other marriages face in our world today. It just means, like a house built on solid rock, it has a stronger foundation to stand on. It’s all about your personal walk, where your heart is, and who you choose to listen to and follow.

Every choice we make in life (and in a marriage) will bring us closer to the light, or it will keep us in the dark. While this rite also has a clause of divorce (a way of escape), there are truly some treasures (and a few surprises!) just waiting to be discovered.

I FEEL IT IN MY HEART!

In this westernized and ‘Babylonian’ culture we live in today, we tend to depend on our hearts to tell us who to marry—and our hearts are the most deceptive part of us to rely on. I’m sure we’ve all heard the term follow your heart. But the heart knows only what the mind wants it to. What we think and meditate on day-in and day-out will govern what we feel in our hearts. And, that is usually what we will act on. Not wise. Many times our minds are not in the right place, from the get-go (i.e., renew your mind . . .).

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure . . .

Who can understand it?

YermeYahu 17:9

The heart is a welt of feelings and emotions. In Torah, we are not to be directed by our feelings. Feelings are behaviors that are learned and stay dormant until they are triggered. As for our emotions, there are five basic expressions: joy, sadness, frustration, anger, and fear. Our emotions are ever changing and are driven by outward events and circumstances. They are the outpourings of what we’re feeling inside. When we operate emotionally, and out of learned behaviors—sometimes we’re going to be hot, and sometimes we’re going to be cold, if you get the picture: unstable and wavering.

The Most High doesn’t operate by how we feel. He operates in spirit and in truth. When we choose otherwise, to act out of our hearts without considering his commandments and statutes, we are simply putting our feelings above YAH and putting ourselves on the throne. Our knowledge of the Most High’s truth must rule over our hearts and we must identify the thoughts behind our emotions to get them under control, in the spirit. That is why it is so important to constantly read YAH’s word and meditate on it, so that we might not sin against him.

WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH MARRIAGE?

There is brazen lust, there is romantic love, and there is abounding love, with its ever deepening stages (which will be addressed in Part II). While lust and romantic love lead to unrealistic views of marriage, none of them (including the deepened stages of love) are a prerequisite to marriage. Often times, when two people get married based upon their [then] present feelings of love (usually developed in dating and courtship), this is as unstable as building a house on sand. Yes, feelings can be undeniably real, and yes, our feelings can change. Courtship is not marriage.

The same mouth that courts you doesn’t marry you.

Caribbean Proverb

Faith-based, arranged marriages tend to rely on patience, trust and understanding to get them growing in the right direction to facilitate love. Commitment is the glue, the foundation that brings and holds them together. The seeds of love are planted in a fertile soil of acceptance, and love and appreciation are carefully tended to, daily, for growth. A husband and wife are willing to work harder for their marriage if they are both committed to it. Staying (in love) and together takes commitment.

While it is understood that love can grow in an arranged marriage, over time, can the same be expected for physical attraction? I mean, everyone has their own image of a sweet invention of a lover’s dream, swirling around in their head, but beauty and appearances are not wise to rely on when choosing a mate, either.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe mutual attraction is a very necessary ingredient that works as a catalyst in growing a marriage relationship. (And mind you, attraction is not necessarily based on looks alone.) But one has to admit, physical attraction can fall into an impasse of its own. You’ve got to take the time to see what is inside of a person.

If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.

Japanese Proverb
Photo by Abdul Karim Jalloh on Pexels.com

THE ANCIENT HEBREW MARRIAGE RITE

There are twelve steps to this rite and they are introduced coinciding with the Hebrew aleph-bet. So let’s pitch a tent and get introduced to the first six: (Please Note: The Ancient Hebrew Wedding Rite consists of two ceremonies. The first is the Betrothal Ritual which we will concentrate on in Part I.)

THE BETROTHAL (Erusin in Hebrew)

1. ALEPH: Ox, Strong Leader

Just as the Most High is looking for a Bride for his son, Ha Mashiach, interestingly enough, in the Ancient Hebrew Marriage Rite, it is the Bridegroom’s father who seeks out and picks the Bride for his son.

Now, I had to think about this for a moment. Purely from a candid point of view: A bride’s dad can tend to believe there is no one good enough for his daughter and he wants to remain the ‘strong arm’ in her eyes (Daddy’s Little Girl syndrome). And of course, the mother of the groom, feeling the same for her son, can be prone to the Mama’s Boy Syndrome (no one can take better care of my boy than me). The bride’s father and the groom’s mother might be biased and easily swayed to choose someone that allows them to keep their hold, whereas the bride’s mother would surely have her back! Of course, that’s just my feeble-minded synopsis (YAH’s ways are not our ways), so let’s get back to what really matters.

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with marvelous and festive joy.

1 Peter1:8

While the Bridegroom’s father picks the Bride, the Bridegroom sends a trusted friend or confidant to go over all the terms with the parents of the Bride-to-be, making sure all arrangements are made and carried through. And, while the Bridegroom may have an idea of what the Bride-to-be looks like (trusted friend has his back in more ways than one), the Bride-to-be might not even have a clue of what her husband will look like. (But that’s where her mother comes into play, for sure. If their bond is ‘on point’, all she would have to do is look at her mother’s face, and know. “Mazal Tov?!” She’ll either be wishing her daughter “good fortune”—or, well, you know.)

I imagine, the Bride can only hope the Bridegroom is an ox. No pun intended, but it works. Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet, represents the ox (strength)—a strong man with leadership qualities, which is very important to a woman. Not many woman want a man ‘without a backbone’, someone she can walk over; someone who doesn’t know how to lead and provide for her. (Ha Mashiach, our Bridegroom is a strong leader and provider. In him there is no lack and no want.)

2. BET: House, Tent, Household.

Bring out the Mohar and Mattan! In ancient times, an ultimate price was secured for a Bride. Okay, she was purchased for a price. (It has been taught that a female was thought to be no more than chattel, but I hold back with a few reservations on that when it comes to the Hebrew female.) Just as Ha Mashiach left his home to come to earth and pay the ultimate Bride price (redemption) that he might return to prepare a home for us, his people, the Bridegroom will leave his home to do the same for his Bride.

The Bridegroom’s father pays a price to the Bride’s father. Usually it involved land, livestock, silver or gold, something given in kind, or in service. In Hebrew, this Bride-price is referred to as mohar and it is recorded and is written into the marriage contract which is called the Ketubah.

In addition, the Bridegroom would give additional gifts to the Bride, and these are referred to as mattan. Just as a loving groom would shower his Bride with gifts, a kind and endearing father would reserve the greater portion of the mohar he received and give it to his daughter to bring as possessions into her marriage.

3. GIMEL: Foot, To Lift Up, Charity

The Betrothal is a promise that is made, it is binding, and it has a duration of about one or two years. It is not exactly like being ‘engaged’ or to be confused with the engagement process we are familiar with in our modern world today. Engagements are easily broken and dissolved, but in the Ancient Hebrew Marriage Rite, an erusin would require a divorce.

To seal the Betrothal, ceremonially, the Bride lifts up a cup of wine (in her right hand—the place of power). The Betrothal considers them legally married, although the Bride will remain in her Father’s house. Additionally, the man and woman will not only not live together during this period of one to two years, they are not to have sexual intercourse with one another, either.

4. DALET: Tent Door, Pathway, Entrance

The Bridegroom is commonly called Hatan, in Hebrew, meaning one who enters into covenant. He promises to provide and care for his Bride in every way, to bring her into his home and keep her in good health. It is the Bridegroom’s intent that she will never have to fear him. This is written into the marriage contract (the Ketubah). The Ketubah is signed before two witnesses and then given to the Bride and her father.

Ha Mashiach declares his love for us, his people, and he promises to provide for all our needs, so we should never be fearful. He is our covering. He is the door and pathway by which we enter into his Father’s, the Most High’s house.

5. HEY: Window, To Reveal

The Bride’s first act of intimacy to her husband is saying “I do.” It is more of a formality, but it gives her (the expression of) free will in choosing her Bridegroom (just as the Most High has given us free will to choose Ha Mashiach as our Bridegroom). Saying “I do” is revealing to her Bridegroom that she wants and desires to be with him, to know him—better stated as yada, in Hebrew, which is an intimate knowing.

6. VAY: To Secure, Peg or Nail

The shared cup of wine is drunk from and the covenant is sealed! The gifts are now given to the Bride (and her family) from the Bridegroom. The first portion of the Ancient Hebrew Wedding Rite is complete. The Bridegroom has secured a seat for his Bride at his Father’s table, just as Ha Mashiach has secured a place for us in his Father’s house.

Part II of this feature will cover The Wedding Chamber (in Hebrew, Nisuin or Huppah), more on the Ketubah and spousal responsibilities, as well as the Get in divorce which will be covered in Part III.

Did you know, the oldest Ketubah and Hebrew marriage document found on record today was found on Elephantine Island (on the river Nile) near the City of Aswan in Egypt? What is most wonderful (and should not be so alarming if you are a student of the Hebrew scriptures), in the papyri is the revelation that, in the ancient days, Hebrew women played a very prominent role in every area of life, together with their men-folk.

And, according to this particular marriage contract, the bride had equal rights with her husband. She had her own property which she bequeathed as she pleased, and both husband and wife were entitled to present a proclamation of divorce, if either should so choose. There was an undeniable equality of spouses. And, in the “document of wife-hood” no matter the social status, women had the same death and repudiation clauses.

(I’m just saying . . . the need for women’s rights was not birthed out of Torah or the Hebrew people. Most evident, it was heavily problematic in other nations. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic to explore, at another time.)

I encourage you to learn more by following the link below to unearth the exciting truth of the oldest Ketubah ever unearthed, and the Hebrew people as a whole, as you await Part II of this article.

Visit the Jewish Women’s Archive, jwa.org (Elephantine, by Bezalel Porten). https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/elephantine

Thank you for reading! May you seek YAH and follow Ha Mashiach. Shalom.

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